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Jewish World Review May 30, 2001 / 8 Sivan, 5761

Walter Williams

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Inept teacher training -- AMERICAN education will never be improved until we address a problem seen as too delicate to discuss. That problem is teacher philosophy and incompetency.

If we were serious about efforts to improve public education, we'd shut down schools of education. Why? Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of any university. They're home to students who have the lowest academic achievement test scores, be they the SAT, GRE, ACT, MCAT or LSAT. They're also home to professors with the lowest academic respect.

A recent study by Lance T. Izumi and K. Gwyne Coburn titled "Facing the Classroom Challenge: Teacher Quality and Teacher Training in California Schools of Education," published by the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, gives us some insight into education philosophy.

An education text used at California State University, Dominguez Hills says, "We cannot afford to become so bogged down in grammar and spelling that we forget the whole story ... the onslaught of antihuman [sic] practices that this nation and other nations are facing today: racism, and sexism, and the greed for money and human labor that disguises itself as 'globalization.'" That's a message from a chapter titled "Spelling and Social Justice," in Enid Lee, et. al.," Beyond Heroes and Holidays."

At San Francisco State University, "About Teaching Mathematics," a text written by Marilyn Burns says, "There is no place for requiring students to practice tedious calculations that are more efficiently and accurately done by using calculators." Instruction "should not aim toward an answer-oriented curriculum," but toward one that values a "reasoning process." A September 2000 Brookings Institution study, using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, found that fourth-graders who used calculators every day had lower math scores than students who didn't.

Another text used at San Francisco State University, "New Designs for Teaching and Learning," by Dennis Adams and Mary Hamm says: "Content knowledge is not seen to be as important as possessing teaching skills and knowledge about the students being taught. ... Successful teachers understand the outside context of community, personal abilities and feelings, while they establish an inside context or environment conducive to learning."

That means, what the heck if teachers haven't mastered ninth- and 10th-grade math, writing and English such as that found in the California Basic Education Skills Test ( Harvey Daniels' and Marilyn Bizar's text "Methods That Matter," takes subject knowledge a step farther, saying, "Students can no longer be viewed as cognitive living rooms into which the furniture of knowledge is moved in and arranged by teachers, and teachers cannot invariably act as subject-matter experts."

The authors add, "The main use of standardized tests in America is to justify the distribution of certain goodies to certain people. And no matter what the test, does anyone seriously expect rich suburban kids, whose 'Nordic' neighbors create and sell these tests, to wind up at the bottom?"

What if parents want basic skills for their children? Ed Labinowicz, in "The Piaget Primer," says that parental support of school reforms that stress basic skills are simply satisfying "parental ego needs" that "they can flaunt before their neighbors" that "have little to do with children's best interests." Translation: Parents who want basic skills and traditional values for their children are seen as education obstructionists.

President Bush, the Congress and state legislators handing over more money to the education establishment will do nothing to end America's education rot. More money will simply spread it. As to teacher training, what's needed is for teachers to have degrees in the subject they teach and maybe a class or two in pedagogy. For this, schools of education are surely not needed.

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